National Archives Confronts Declassification Challenges

With hundreds of millions of pages to be reviewed for declassification in the coming decade, the National Archives (NARA) faces an enormous logistical challenge if it is to discharge its responsibility to open up the historical record to the American public.

A new “Report on Declassification Challenges” (pdf) suggests that the Archives, led by National Archivist Dr. Allen Weinstein, is taking the matter seriously.

“Over the next ten years,… NARA needs to be positioned to effectively and efficiently process more than 766 million pages of classified federal records,” the Report notes.

“Even without the challenges identified in this report, the sheer volume requiring declassification processing by NARA with its limited resources is itself a significant challenge.”

The August 2006 report, publicly released last week, lays out the magnitude of the current declassification burden and sketches a proposed concept for operations for a new National Declassification Initiative to help expedite the process.

For a variety of reasons, including resource limitations and bureaucratic resistance from some agencies, the success of the new initiative is not assured.

But neither is declassification an “optional” activity that can be easily dispensed with. To the contrary, the Report says, declassification is an integral part of classification policy.

“One of the principal means of maintaining the effectiveness of the security classification system is the prompt removal of classification controls from information that no longer requires protection in the interest of national security.”

The new Report was released by the Archivist “in the spirit of transparency and to ensure that all quarters are aware of the challenges faced by NARA in this area, our ongoing efforts to address them, and to highlight the commitment of NARA to fulfilling our responsibilities to both safeguard information that requires continued protection and otherwise seek the prompt declassification and release of information.”

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